The 20 Most Underrated Movies of 2020

The 20 Most Underrated Movies of 2020

January 17, 2024

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I know every list with “2020” in the title has to start with “it hasn’t been an easy year”, I know about that law, but truth be told, it’s been a great year for film. Many 2019 festival favorites made it to streaming and they did so quicker than usual.  

Here are the 20 best ones that you’ve missed. 

11. One Night in Miami (2020)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Regina King

Actors

Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Smart

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they’re not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

12. Collective (2020)

best

8.4

Country

Germany, Luxembourg, Romania

Director

Alexander Nanau

Actors

Camelia Roiu, Cătălin Tolontan, Mirela Neag, Narcis Hogea

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Intense

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government’s side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

13. There Is No Evil (2020)

best

8.4

Country

Czech Republic, Germany, Iran

Director

Mohammad Rasoulof

Actors

Mahtab Servati

Moods

Dark, Discussion-sparking, Original

Exploring morality, conscience, and the death penalty, There Is No Evil tells four interconnected stories about men tasked with carrying out executions. The film excels at creating a sense of unease and tension as their reality contends with their beliefs about capital punishment and loyalty to the state. Director Mohammad Rasoulof (known for his films that explore social and political issues in Iran) allows each narrative to center both the subject and the institution, maintaining suspense but never straying from its argument. The sum – and its part – are undeniably profound.

14. On the Record (2020)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Amy Ziering, Female director

Actors

Shanita Hubbard

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Instructive

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings’ Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that’s restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

15. Disclosure (2020)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Sam Feder

Actors

Ajita Wilson, Alexandra Billings, Alexandra Grey, Angelica Ross

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Smart

Disclosure is a patient and articulate study of the ways movies have physically conditioned us to respond to certain expressions of queerness with fear, disgust, or laughter. But it also serves as a reminder that trans bodies have been represented on screen for as long as movies have existed—making it all the more unacceptable that we still often only see reductive and harmful stereotypes of trans people over 100 years since the birth of cinema. However, Disclosure is far from a “takedown” designed to make viewers feel bad. At the end of it all this remains a celebration film’s power to dignify perspectives we rarely get to see through, and it’s one of the nerdiest and most passionate trips through film history you could hope to have.

16. Wojnarowicz (2021)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Chris McKim

Actors

David Wojnarowicz, Fran Lebowitz, Nan Goldin

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Inspiring

Even a straightforward documentary on the New York East Village visual artist David Wonjarowicz (pronounced VOY-nuh-ROH-vitch) would be thrilling, given the energy and the irreverence of his artworks especially during the AIDS epidemic from the 1980s to the 1990s. But director Chris McKim goes above and beyond, essentially imagining how Wojnarowicz would have directed his own film. McKim treats the movie like a collage in itself, expertly blending footage and sound together not just to capture the artist’s fury, but to remember how deeply he loved, transcending space and sickness. As an account of the underground New York art scene at the time, a profile on a supposed enfant terrible, and a tribute to all those who lost their lives to a disease accelerated by discrimination, Wojnarowicz is a beautiful, complex tapestry.

17. Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Actors

Adam Carolla, Al Unser Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Instructive

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

18. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Radha Blank

Actors

Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Uplifting

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

19. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

20. Gather (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Sanjay Rawal

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Mind-blowing

This insightful and uplifting documentary is about a growing movement within indigenous communities: obtaining food sovereignty by going back to pre-genocide ways of cultivating food.

The violent changes that have affected indigenous communities don’t impact just the people, but also the animals, the fish, and the land. All of these are now bearing the brunt of climate change.

Historically, North American governments forbid Native people from fishing and cultivating their foods as a way to repress them and create dependency. Gather is as much a recognition of the damage that was done as it is a forward-looking vision about how these communities are taking control of their faiths.

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